Center for Coastal Studies Launches Right Whales Emergency Initiative

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)

PROVINCETOWN – The Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown is launching a new North Atlantic Right Whale Emergency Initiative in an attempt to help prevent the extinction of the critically endangered species.

The species has an estimated population around 430 and 18 deaths have been confirmed over the last year with only five new calves.

The once thriving species was down to a population of around 270 but conservation efforts between 1990 to 2010 helped rebound numbers to near 500.

Right whale deaths are mostly caused by ship strikes and entanglements.

“Everything that both we and numbers of other colleagues in the U.S. and Canada are seeing is that the right whale population is in very deep and severe trouble,” said Charles “Stormy” Mayo, a Center for Coastal Studies researcher.

The goal of the initiative is to expand the area of research outside of Cape Cod Bay, where a majority of the whales congregate to feed in the spring.

“They must be passing through offshore areas that are not well protected because they are not well understood,” Mayo said.

The initiative seeks to increase aerial surveys in other areas where the whales are not well monitored or protected.

“[We] hope that we can let the managers take our information and protect those areas better than they presently are,” Mayo said.

Previous research by the center has helped management agencies in rerouting shipping lanes, reducing speed limits in right whale migration pathways, and managing fisheries to remove gear when whales are most likely to visit the area.

Research efforts will be expanded to the high-priority location of Jeffreys Ledge, off the coasts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The location was designated as a Critical Habitat for right whales in 2016.

The area also has high shipping and fishing activity, but gaps in critical information have resulted in lagging management efforts.

So far this year, things do not seem to be improving for the species as no new calves have been sighted by aerial spotters off the coasts of Georgia and Florida, which has always been the principle calving ground.

“I hold out hope that perhaps whales are calving in a different location,” Mayo said. “If there are no calves then the population is in very, very deep trouble.”

Fewer than 100 of the species whales are breeding age females.

In the short-term, the initiative will try to find out where the whales are coming from before funneling in to Cape Cod Bay.

Long-term hopes would be to develop strict management of shipping and fishing activities outside of Cape Cod Bay.

More than 60 individual whales have been photographed already in Cape Cod Bay in 2018.

“That would be one the densest concentrations in the period of January through February,” Mayo said. “We have already an unusual number of whales. We don’t know what will happen during the peak of their season.”


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